Expectations. We try to live up or down to them. Expectations set standards that real life often adjusts for us, whether we will it not not. There’s nothing quite like the high of exceeded expectations and nothing quite like the disappointment of falling short.

In business, our employers, managers, and clients set expectations for us. These may be expressed as standard operating procedures, employee handbooks, deadlines, and guidelines. They are meant to establish a minimum standard for acceptable performance and consistency.

In freelancing, the expectations I must consistently meet are my own. These expectations entail what I deem acceptable effort by me for my clients: nothing less than my best. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough. Sometimes my best isn’t good, but mediocre. I’ve long since learned not to pursue or accept projects that I don’t believe I cannot perform to a certain minimum professional standard. If nothing else, I don’t want my best to be categorized as poor quality.

As an author, those standards and expectations fly out the window during when writing the first draft of a story. The purpose of the first draft isn’t to deliver perfect prose, but to get the story out. The refining and polishing process comes during the editing and revision phases.

When a personal endeavor fails to meet expectations, that failure hurts. It speaks to misjudgment, an error in calculation, a lapse from the reality that governs us. It’s akin to riding the “should-beast.”

I had such an experience lately.

On July 5, I brought home a new horse (pony, actually), a 9-year-old Halflinger mare named Replica of Excellence. She’s beautiful. In equestrian parlance, she rides and drives, meaning she’s well trained as a riding horse and as a carriage horse. What I didn’t consider was her lack of experience.

My best friend, Cindra, who has been generous in helping me with Teddy, has expanded her assistance to include Replica. (Truthfully, I’d be lost without Cindra.) Last weekend, after two weeks of disgusting, sweltering heat followed by a week of almost constant rain, we were finally able to take the ponies out for a spin. We went to Twin Towers Park. The park has a fenced ring used for show jumping, two dressage rings, an eventing course, and bridle trails. We used the fenced ring, relying on the fence to contain the ponies in the event of an “involuntary dismount.” I rode Replica.

I expected Replica to be the calm, cool, steady one: the “should-beast.” I hoped to take a turn or two around the ring, then head out on the nice, wide, flat trails. I expected Teddy to be the Nervous Nelly. My expectations were wrong on all counts, because one cannot ride the “should-beast.” Replica was the anxious one, Teddy alert but not stupid. Replica had the meltdown, which sparked an answering spook from Teddy. We didn’t get beyond the ring. We certainly didn’t hit the trails.

I did, at least, manage to avoid the involuntary dismount.

Real life adjusted my expectations, dialing them back. I decided to be satisfied with getting Replica to walk around the ring without balking. Both directions. With that, we concluded on a good note and began making plans for future rides with lowered expectations.

In writing, one publishes with high expectations. More often than not, the book fails to meet those lofty goals. But we persevere, because passion and determination compel us continue to reach higher and exceed past performance to achieve that elusive state of being known as success.